Editor’s note: This story originally aired on September 20, 2011.
It’s not news that there are dudes, guys, buds and fellas who practice the ancient exercise regimen of yoga. But the simple fact is that most men do not do yoga and aren’t planning to anytime soon. Enter: Broga, a yoga class designed for, well … bros.
Broga’s creator and instructor is Robert Sidoti. The 41-year-old is blonde, with a trim, muscular build. He says he started practicing yoga about 10 years ago as a supplement to other workouts.
“First of all, [yoga’s] a great feeling. I played a lot of basketball, a lot of golf, it affected my flexibility in a real positive way, also the strength,” Sidoti said. “I was able to hit the golf ball longer. I was able to play longer, my stamina was increased. So I just really fell in love with it.”
Sidoti lives on Martha’s Vineyard, where he runs a small landscaping business and his wife teaches yoga. The couple and their son spend two months of the year in California where Sidoti grew up. He says the name “Broga” was born during a get-together with old friends.
“One of my close friends, who drinks Coca-Cola and he smokes his cigarettes, and he’s like that guy. No judgment, that’s just who he is,” Sidoti said.
After Sidoti talked up yoga and how into it he was, Sidoti’s friend offered a suggestion.
“He’s like, ‘Man, you need to do something for the bros. What about Broga?’ And it was just like, ‘Ding, ding, ding, ding!’”
Sidoti started teaching Broga on Martha’s Vineyard about three years ago. Earlier this summer he started another class in Somerville, Mass., just outside of Boston.
My wife and mother-in-law enjoy yoga, but I’ve never tried it, so on a Saturday morning two weeks ago, I decided to “man up” and find out what Broga is all about.
The studio on the lower level of a large community building is dimly lit and there’s a faint smell of incense. Mirrors line the long wall along the front of the room. Before long the space is pretty full with 14 people on rectangular, orange mats.
After some quiet breathing and stretching, we move into poses and it quickly starts to feel like a real workout.
“Breathe in here and exhale, lower, all the way down,” Sidoti instructed. “Untuck your toes. Lift up — cobra pose. Exhale. Downward dog.”
It seems that there are several yoga beginners in the group — it takes one to know one — and Sidoti made a point to stroll past our mats to offer some guidance.
“Set the left knee forward more, Doug,” Sidoti told me. “Keep the right heel lifted for this one. That’s the warrior stance.”
Adam O’Neill from Winthrop, Mass., is Sidoti’s friend and business partner and is working to market Broga. O’Neill took up yoga several years ago after suffering a back injury at the age of 25 while working as a carpenter. O’Neill admits he should have come around much sooner, his mother has been teaching yoga for 30 years in his hometown in upstate New York.
“I was collegiate a athlete,” O’Neill said. “I played a lot of sports in high school. I was aware of the potential great benefits of (yoga), but it was just like, ‘I’m not doing that, dude.’”
O’Neill says some men are surprised to learn how challenging a yoga workout can be.
“You can’t muscle through it, like you always could,” O’Neill said. “You can’t just bang out a couple more reps on the bench press or just dig deep and try to push a little harder on that mile run. Yoga is very much about living in that uncomfortable moment and rather than trying to avoid it, learning to manage it and to deal with it and to find peace in that. So it’s a very different type of physical fitness experience.”
Yoga Journal is the top-selling magazine about yoga in the United States. In 2008, the publication commissioned a survey of more than 5,000 people. The study found there were approximately 15.8 million yoga practitioners in the U.S. and nearly 28 percent of them were men.
“Yeah, I don’t believe that (statistic) at all,” said John Capouya. “I would just be very surprised if almost a third of the people in this country right now who practice yoga are men.”
Capouya is a professor of non-fiction writing at the University of Tampa and published “Real Men Do Yoga,” in 2003. Capouya says he thinks fear of embarrassment keeps many men from giving yoga a shot.
“I think it’s kind of like the stereotype of men won’t ask for directions when they’re driving,” Capouya said. “You know, they don’t want to go to a room in front of a bunch of women and the person says, ‘OK, shining upside down dog pose’ and you don’t know what she’s talking about and you don’t do it and you’re behind. I think some people are reluctant to put themselves in that position.”
Halfway through the hour-and-15-minute class, I know my hamstrings are going to be killing me by the next morning, if not sooner. Pushups are part of my regular exercise routine, but holding the plank pose in between reps is not, and my shoulders will be sore, too.
Much as I hate to interrupt the flow of my workout, I periodically leave my mat to check on my recording equipment. You know, just to be sure it’s still working.
Most of the poses we did in the class are common in regular yoga classes. Sidoti says he emphasizes upper body exercises to appeal to men with something they’re likely to do well already. By design, there’s no chanting or ohms and few of the spiritual aspects found in some classes.
Sidoti also incorporates a strong cardio component into each class. That’s where Hindu squats come in. The move involves squatting, sweeping your arms so your fingers graze the floor then rising as you pull your arms back and thrust your chest out. As we repeated them in rapid succession, the breathing got heavier, the room got hot and the mirrors behind Sidoti became completely fogged.
Paul Lowenstein has been to two Broga classes. He says he’s been to a few regular yoga classes and he notices the difference.
“This yoga, I definitely sweat more than any other yoga I’ve done before,” Lowenstein, from Somerville, Mass., said. “I kind of hate it at the time, but it’s good in the end.”
Broga is aimed at men, but the classes are open to anyone and half of today’s class is women.
“This yoga, I definitely sweat more than any other yoga I’ve done before.”
Carolyn Berk and Laura Mandelberg both live in Somerville. Mandelberg says she enjoyed the upper body workout. Berk says she’s taken traditional yoga classes, but never felt flexible enough to fit in.
“I’ve done a few, but it actually kind of scared me away from yoga because it’s always, ‘Put your leg behind your head and twist like a pretzel,’ and I’m not flexible at all,” Mandelberg said. “I kind of expected that from any yoga class. And this one, I didn’t feel like I had to contort my body into weird poses that I cannot do because I’m not flexible at all. So, in that sense it was actually more appealing to me, I guess because it was centered for guys who can’t really do that either.”
But it wasn’t just the workout that lured the women to a class designed for guys.
“I was brought out with the promise that there’d be hot, sweaty men,” Berk said, smiling. “It sounds a little shallow, but I’m not going to lie.”
“I promised her hot, sweaty men,” Mandelberg confessed.
Broga is not a money maker yet and adding a class on the mainland is a huge commitment for Sidoti. Every Saturday he takes a 6 a.m. ferry from Martha’s Vineyard, which takes him to a bus, which takes him to a subway. Then, after a 20-minute walk, he arrives at the studio for a 10 a.m. class.
If they develop a regular following at the new location, Sidoti and O’Neill say the next step for Broga is finding and training instructors in other cities. Eventually, they’d like to offer a full range of instruction videos online.
Sidoti says the name Broga gets people’s attention, but it’s a blessing and a curse.
“My battle with ‘Broga’ is I’m offering something and creating something, a concept that I believe is real,” Sidoti said. “It has depth. There’s integrity. But I have to understand it’s a name you can really play with. There are so many Bro-isms you can throw in with this. ‘Get with the brogram, stop brocrastinating.’ It’s marketable beyond.”
And that concludes the story of my first experience with yoga. It was great exercise and I’m planning to give it another shot. I’ve even picked up some of the lingo…